Saturday, January 24, 2015

Islam in Austria with a pan-European focus, by Ioannis Michaletos

The turmoil in the European states due to the return of Jihadists of ISIS from the Middle Eastern battlefields has resulted in a wide range of security measures aimed to curb the operational capabilities of those. 

In parallel, there are hundreds of independent extremist cells across the Continent and a well-formed infrastructure by which even terrorist attacks can be staged, despite restrictive and surveillance measures put forward by authorities.

On a strategic level, the situation can be viewed in an even more negative manner, if we take into account that subversion and infiltration of extremists has been gradual and rather successive process that is maturing for decades now and well before the effects of the so-called "Arab Spring".

In Austria in particular, we have a nexus and a hub between radical Sunni formations from the Balkans, Turkey and the Middle East and the main coordination centers of a multitude of activities concerning Western Balkans and Bosnia-Herzegovina in particular. 

Already Islamic mainstream presence in Austria is clearly not integrated in the local society and has been running its daily and social life, in parallel to the rest of the citizens, whilst keeping close in contact and cooperation with foreign "patronizing" powers of Islamic origin. 

The Turkish-Islamic Union for social and cultural cooperation (ATIB) controls 64 mosques in Austria, having around 80,000 members and is closely related to the governing AKP party in Turkey and has a long-standing collaboration with the Turkish "Presidency of Religious Affairs". The latter is a state institution in Turkey under the authority of the President and has an estimated budget for 2014 in excess of 1.5 billion Euros.  

The Islamic Federation in Vienna controls another 59 mosques, with ties to numerous international Islamic networks, most importantly the Muslim Brotherhood (M.B.). Moreover the Islamic cultural center control another 43 mosques, also related to M.B. The Islamic Association of Bosnia is another strong organization with 41 mosques in control. 

The total number of Muslims in Austria numbers around 600,000 people, out of which more than 25% descent from Bosnia, whilst news reports from that country, indicate that over the past few years 5% of the total can be classified as either radically-politicized or extremists, most of them congregated in Vienna metropolis and Graz. The president of the Turkish cultural community in Austria, Birol Kilic, recently stated that many Islamic groups oppose Austria's open society and run parallel structures of segregation and exclusion on purpose having no role in a secular society. 

Mili Gorus, a German based Turkish-Islamic organization, has gained considerable ground in Austria over the years and aligns itself presently with the global Muslim Brotherhood network. Although its membership cannot be estimated exactly, it can be roughly said that it enjoys the support of more than 15,000 mostly Turkish immigrants in the country, and has over the years established close contacts with Hamas and in direct collaboration with the Turkish IHH organization in Istanbul. 

The snapshot of the above main groups, indicate two main features. Firstly Austria has a considerable infiltration of strong Turkish state interests in its territory, filled with Sunni Islamic aura, which makes them especially influential if one adds a pragmatic analysis by approaching these phenomena. Secondly Muslim Brotherhood has made itself attached to these groups that enlarging its support base in Europe and having created the “perfect” hub and coordination centers relating to its activities in Bosnia where it also enjoys a strong clout. 

In sort Austria could be the next country to host the headquarters of the global M.B. a hypothesis that was widely talked about in 2014 by mostly UK pundits, but has not been fully materialized as of yet. In the meantime a steady influx of refugees and illegal immigrants from Syria, Iraq, Western Balkans and Central Asian countries, ensures that the membership of the aforementioned organizations, along with multiple smaller groups will enlarge and Vienna would be the unquestionable center of political-or even radical Islam" in continental Europe in the coming 10 years at most. 

Due to the proximity of the county to the Western Balkans, the overall situation concerning both organized groups of "EU Jihadists" and the seemingly proliferation of "lone wolf" type of culprits, as far as , EU's security agenda is concerned and in a tactical level; Austria will certainly be in the spotlight in the coming years.